The guys in Tonight We Ride are awesome. They’re the type of guys who have at least two hundred thank yous (including seventeen bartenders, who get their own section), thank people twice, give people nicknames in their thankyous, and stick a picture of Montana in the corner of the booklet with the phrase “Ya’ll can f*ck off we’re from montana.” I feel like I would be friends with these guys, and hearing their album Of the West only confirms that.
That carefree, fun-loving character shows through in their music as well. This is a bar band (if you didn’t catch the subtle clues from the first paragraph); imagine the Hold Steady at a hoedown with less piano and a lot more hollering. But instead of the disaffected cool that the Hold Steady cultivates, Tonight We Ride has a much more enthusiastic take on life. There’s hollering and shouting kicking off and closing several tracks, most notably “Heaven Can Wait.” It’s the attitude of goofy pop-punk bands like Last Tuesday, but applied to a much more rock aesthetic.
And that rock isn’t the hardest of rock, because this is a bar band, not a modern rock band. It’s pretty great. It’s the type of music that endears a listener to it. The imperfections of vocal tone are a great thing as opposed to a terrible thing, because it feels so real and honest and fun.
The highlights here are closer “Cash Money,” “Drink Myself into Oblivion” and “Prelude to Hell on Earth.” The first two are rollicking bar tunes, suitable to be sung along to with beer in hand and bros around. The third is a different turn, with their hoedown mentality traded for a Spaghetti Western mentality. It’s an instrumental track, and it sounds great. It’s apparently the prelude to a concept album about 2012 that is forthcoming, which has me incredibly excited.
In short, Tonight We Ride is awesome. If you like fun, energetic, enthusiastic rock’n’roll, Tonight We Ride is here to kick you in the pants and make you like it. You might just end up thanked in the next album as Joe “We kicked him in the pants and made him like it” Smith. Highly recommended for fans of Hold Steady, Last Tuesday, Riverboat Gamblers, etc.
The most striking thing about Fairmont‘s The Meadow at Dusk EP is the relative calm it espouses. While Fairmont has never been the speediest of the indie-rock set tempo-wise, they’re anything but calm when it comes to their lyrical content. “Kicking and screaming, doused with bits of resigned bitterness” is a more apt description of the words that accompany Fairmont’s guitar-heavy indie-rock/pop.
With that calm comes a shift in instrumentation (or, perhaps, the shift in instrumentation causes the calm). Previous albums featured tracks that built towards overflowing endings crammed full of vocal tracks, electric guitar swells and pounding rhythm sections. There’s still some of that happening on Meadow. The crashing guitars and staccato rhythms of “From High Above the City” sound musically like a transplant from their last effort Transcendence.
The bridge, however, puts Fairmont’s direction in much greater focus, musically and lyrically. A bass riff on a keyboard takes over with a complicated riff, and an electronic beat keeps time for it. It flows seamlessly back into crashing electric guitars, but the point is made musically. The dual vocals feature a girl, a first for Fairmont. The lyrics portray a sort of normalcy that is uncharacteristic of Fairmont’s discography but in line with Meadow‘s themes: “This could be heaven, this could be hell; this is life, this is how it’s going.”
With that new vocalist, addition of keyboard, and calmer outlook on life, the whole feel of Fairmont is slightly different. Those additions lead naturally to more acoustic guitar presence in their music, something that hasn’t been a major, effective part of Fairmont’s sound since 2003’s Anomie. “The King and Queen” is a folk-rock song supported by a sweet acoustic guitar riff, “The Embalmer” is a straight-up folk lullaby (albeit one with a chorus that says “Song for the suffering, song for the dead;” can’t stray too far from their roots), and “My One and Only One” is (get this) a love song. Yes, it does have “Sometimes you wear me out” as its main line, but its contrasted by “When times were tough, you were there” and the almost-weird-to-hear-coming-out-of-Neil-Sabatino’s-mouth “You are my one and only one.”
The tracks that make best use of the new female vocalist and feature the acoustic aesthetic are the more successful tracks on this album. “I am the Mountain” is the best meld of old and new, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “The King and Queen” and “The Embalmer.”
If you’re a fan of girl/guy interplay, you should add Fairmont to your library. You haven’t had a reason to before this, but Meadow at Dusk EP establishes new sounds and new angles to Fairmont’s sound that should intrigue you. It features some of their most accomplished and entertaining songwriting, and that’s saying something: I own half a dozen Fairmont releases. The tracks have an immediate glow and yet still grow in enjoyment as you hear them more; that’s something most bands wish they could accomplish. Highly recommended for fans of the Hold Steady, M. Ward, and/or Peter, Bjorn and John.